Monday, June 1, 2009

A Little Ratafia ?

Dr. Miller's Ratafia Damiana was a bitters product marketed by, sole agents for the Pacific Coast, Siebe Bros. & Plagemann. It is believed that in 1878 the Siebe brothers formed a partnership with Jacob Plagemann and began operating a wholesale liquor house. The Ratafia product was only marketed for a very short time, possibly from 1878 to sometime in 1879. The bottle itself is a whiskey shaped 6th size and is heavily embossed on the face. It has the large size flat lettering and curved "R's" associated with western glasshouses. There is a winged lion or sphinx looking creature holding a big wineglass full of, what I assume is, Dr. Miller's Ratafia Damiana and looking pretty pleased with his choice of beverage. The bitters product was a franchise from Dr. Charles Miller and was compounded from the damiana plant that grows wild in Mexico and Central America. It is claimed that the damiana plant acts as a tonic, laxative, stimulant and to have aphrodisiac properties. The damiana was mixed with a sweetened bitter almond flavored alcohol to produce the finished product.

The firm of Siebe Bros. and Plagemann also marketed the Rosedale O.K. Whiskey and were agents for G.W. Chesley's Jockey Club Whiskey and Cunderango Bitters. The Dr. Miller's Ratafia brand was sold to Buckley & Son in 1882.

At the present time it is believed there are about a dozen (What kind of count do you have AP?) of the Ratafia bottles in undamaged condition. Examples of this bottle have been recovered from Vallejo, Mariposa, Nevada City and Downieville. In Nevada examples have been discovered in Hamilton, Eureka and Belleville. The highly whittled dark amber example that I uncovered at Teels Marsh would have been one of my highlights of digging in Nevada, had it not been broken.
Photo's courtesy American Bottle Auctions


  1. G.O.
    My count is at 15 whole examples, with only 7 of those being mint or near mint. The example you have pictured in this post appears to be the one dug in Los Angeles in 1994. Quite a find for Los Angeles, but Siebe Bros did have good distribution down there, as several of the amber glob top Rosedales have been found there as well.
    Other places these have been found broken or whole are Sacto, Colusa, Benicia, Mendocino, and Stockton.

  2. AP,
    Thanks for the info. I didn't know that the Ratafia was dug in L.A. I didn't realize that Siebe Bros. & Plagemann marketed their products in SoCal.
    I am really impressed with all the information that is being exchanged on both the bitters site & Roger's whiskey site. It's great to have the collectors that don't get to talk that often at shows etc. swapping research material & field research (digging)and posting it for others to enjoy. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and making these sites happen.

  3. G.O. I agree, it's cool to have this forum to share info. We all have bits of info we've researched or stumbled upon over the yrs. Now we have a good way to get it out there for others to see. I've already learned some interesting stuff from these Western bottle blogs, and I've only been signed-on for 3 mos !